International Student and Scholar Services

International Student and Scholar Services

Unpaid Internships

*Special Note with Regard to Unpaid Internships:

If the position you have been offered is unpaid, do you need to apply for Curricular Practical Training or Optional Practical Training?

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is rigorously investigating “unpaid internship” programs to determine if the work performed is properly “volunteer” work under the law. If the unpaid internship should be a paid internship under DOL rule, then you must be employment authorized using CPT or OPT. Without proper authorization you may be violating your status because you are engaging in unauthorized employment.

It is therefore important for you to understand the rules governing volunteer work. The DOL Wage and Hour Division has established a six-factor test for determining whether work is legitimately volunteer training, or whether it is employment (for which pay and work authorization is required.) If all six of the following criteria apply the trainees are not employees, and may be classified as volunteers for which no employment authorization is required:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, is similar to that which would be given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the trainee.
  3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close supervision.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage for the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at the completion of the training period; and
  6. The employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

Use this six factor test to determine if the position you are taking requires work authorization, and remember the safe rule -- “if the student trainee will provide the employer with beneficial service, even if unpaid, then proper work authorization is required.

*adapted from an article by Mark B. Roads, “International Students and Unpaid Internships,” National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Journal, April 2016

A student on OPT who is volunteering (unpaid) should submit a volunteer letter to the ISSS office written by their supervisor/HR coordinator for whom the student is volunteering.  Click here to download a volunteer letter template